Postal & Federal Employee Disability Retirement Benefits: When Curiosity Fades

It is that compelling feature for animals and humans alike (if one is to make a distinction between the two); of an innate sense for the extraordinary, and a need to figure out change, reveal the hidden vortex of anomalies, and uncover the mystery behind the curtain.  Shakespeare made reference to the known proverb in Much Ado about Nothing, and it was originally meant as a forewarning for those who meddle in other’s affairs; but it is curiosity, indeed, which maintains an evolutionary compulsion to strive forth, to manifest life and liveliness in the face of dull acceptance and loss of inherent inquisitiveness.

When other concerns begin to intersect and overtake, is when such features meant to enhance survivability and adaption begin to diminish.  Life and its exhaustive characteristics, especially in modernity, can result in the uncharacteristic feature of disinterest and dismay.  Whether the medical condition portends first, or the sense of abandonment in prefatory congealment, the fact is that life and its inherent stresses can be like a weight of seemingly insurmountable burdens crushing in its suffocating pervasiveness.

For Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers, the heightened stress imposed by increasing steps of adverse actions, punitive measures and letters threatening discipline and termination, can be daunting and devastating.  Dealing with a medical condition itself can be a full-time endeavor, and can sap the life, energy and reserve of vitality for even the strongest of individuals.

When the medical condition begins to prevent the Federal or Postal worker from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s positional duties, it is time to take stock and inventory of one’s choices, which are normally limited to three:  (A)  Stay with the agency or the U.S. Postal Service, and allow for the progressive diminution of that peculiar trait called curiosity for life, (B) Wait for the adverse actions to increase in systematic advancement of punitive impositions, or (C) Begin the process of preparing, formulating and filing for Federal or Postal Medical Retirement.

The shell of a man did not become so in one fell swoop; rather, by incremental destruction, like a child taking apart a completed puzzle piece by piece.

Filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset, is often the first step towards regaining a piece of one’s sanity, one’s physical well-being, and one’s “wholeness” of being a human being; and contrary to the common perspective that curiosity killed the cat, it is almost always the exact opposite:  it is the Federal agency or the U.S. Postal Service which kills curiosity, which is the underlying force and beauty of a life worth living.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

 

FERS/CSRS Disability Necessary Forms: OPM SF 3112 & 3107

All Standard Forms issued by Federal agencies must be distinguished by the specific content of information requested.  Thus, for the Federal and Postal employee who desires to file for the benefit of OPM Disability Retirement, the two primary series of OPM (the acronym for the “U.S. Office of Personnel Management”) forms which must be completed are the SF 3107 series and SF 3112 series, for all Federal and Postal employees under FERS.  For those few dinosaurs who are lucky enough to be in the archaic and outmoded CSRS component, the SF 3107 forms are not used, but rather, the 2801 OPM forms must be completed.

Thus, as most Postal and Federal employees are under FERS, any discussion concerning SF 3107, without mention of SF 2801, is merely for convenience sake, and is not to deliberately exclude those under CSRS.  For both CSRS and FERS employees, the SF 3112 OPM forms are to be completed.  Whether one is in CSRS or FERS, all Federal employees and Postal Workers can file for, and be eligible to receive, Federal Disability Retirement benefits if the proper documentation, proven by a legal standard of preponderance of the evidence, is submitted.

Submission of SF 3107 is distinguished from SF 3112 by the substance of information requested, and is not duplicative of efforts expended.  SF 3107 requires basic information on the application, and must accompany OPM form 3112 (which is further broken down into alphabetical series of SF 3112A, SF 3112B, SF 3112C, SF 3112D and SF 3112E), which requests specific data on medical conditions (SF 3112A), questions from a Supervisor (SF 3112B), the opinions of the physician (SF 3112C), and any agency efforts for reassignment or accommodation of the medical condition (SF 3112D).

Whether informational or of specific content, standard forms issued by the Federal Government need to be carefully analyzed, reviewed and evaluated before completing them. While basic information requested need not require a great amount of reflection or intuitive input, specific-content requirements as represented by OPM Form 3112 (i.e., SF 3112A, SF 3112B, SF 3112C and SF 3112D) should be carefully and thoughtfully formulated.

This is no longer an age where dinosaurs roam a cooling earth; the Age of Man is one of information technology and unfettered bureaucracies and, as such, the content of what one says is as important as the changing climate which made extinct the behemoths of old.

Sincerely,
Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Federal Worker Disability Retirement: The Extras, on Either Side

In performing a job, there is the basic parameter of the official “position description” for the Federal and Postal employee, which provides the foundational overview, the physical and cognitive demands of the job, and the necessary credentials and qualifications required before acceptance.

The reality of the actual workplace may somewhat modify the official establishment of one’s position, and that is to be expected:  generalities are often tailored to meet the needs of individual circumstances and situations presented by the local agency.  Beyond that, however, there is often the question of what constitutes “too much” on the one hand, and on the other side of the equation, what reduced modification of a position constitutes an accommodation under the law.

In preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, such a duality of questions will often be encountered.  Modification by a Supervisor of a position’s duties may well allow for the Federal or Postal employee to continue to remain in a position, without compromising one’s health.  Yet, does such unofficial modification constitute a viable accommodation such that it would preclude one from being eligible for Federal Disability Retirement?  Normally, not.

On the other side of the equation, does adding responsibilities to one’s official position description result in such additional duties becoming part of the essential elements of one’s job, such that the fact that one’s medical conditions may prevent one from performing such added responsibilities impact the eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement?  Again, normally not. But such issues must be approached with intelligence and armed with the tools of knowledge of the applicable laws.

Whatever the answers, the “extras” on either side of the equation must be approached with caution, lest one finds that the earth is indeed flat, and one can fall over the edge into an abyss of administrative nightmares in preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether under FERS or CSRS.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Recurring Issues of Disability Accommodation, Light & Limited Duty, and the Form Filling of the OPM SF 3112D PDF File

The issue of Agency Accommodations — whether or not an agency can truly “accommodate” an individual; what constitutes a legal accommodation as opposed to temporary light-duty arrangements which do not constitute legally viable accommodations under the standards as expressed in Bracey v. OPM and other cases — keeps coming up in the form of questions and concerns.

Let me just state a few thoughts: First, obviously, the best scenario is if the Agency checks off block 4(a) of SF 3112D, acknowledging that the “medical evidence presented to the agency shows that accommodation is not possible due to the severity of the medical condition and the physical requirements of the position.” Second, however, even if the Agency does not check off 4(a), it is not necessarily a problem, or even a valid concern. Agency Human Resources personnel are notoriously ignorant of the current case-law, and often mistake ad-hoc temporary assignments as constituting an “accommodation”, when in fact they represent no such standard or level of acceptability in disability retirement law. Finally, it is always mindful to remember that disability retirement is a medical issue, not one which is determined by non-medical personnel, and that is why it is important to focus first and foremost upon obtaining a legally sufficient medical narrative report.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement: Agency’s Actions Can Sometimes Be To Your Advantage

Postal employees, there is nothing inherently wrong with an Agency offering you modified or light duty assignments. If your Agency deems you to be valuable, they may want to modify your position in order to keep you. However, the mere fact that you accept and work at a “modified” position does not mean that you are thereby precluded, down the road, from filing for disability retirement.

In fact, most “light duty” or “modified positions” are not real positions anyway, and so you may have the best of both worlds for many years: be able to work at a light-duty or modified position, and still reserve the right to file for Postal Disability Retirement sometime in the future.

The reason for this is simple: in all likelihood, your SF 50 will not change, and you will still remain in the same, original position. As such, the “light duty” position is simply a “made-up” position which has no impact upon your ability to file for disability retirement later on. This is the whole point of Ancheta v. Office of Personnel Management, 95 M.S.P.R. 343 (2003), where the Board held that a modified job in the Postal Service that does not “comprise the core functions of an existing position” is not a “position” or a “vacant position” for purposes of determining eligibility for disability retirement. The Board noted that a “modified” job in the Postal Service may include “‘subfunctions’ culled from various positions that are tailored to the employee’s specific medical restrictions,” and thus may not constitute “an identifiable position when the employee for whom the assignment was created is not assigned to those duties“. The Board thus suggested that a “modified” job in the Postal Service generally would not constitute a “position” or a “vacant position.”

Analogously, this would be true in Federal, non-postal jobs, when one is offered a “modified” or “light-duty position,” or where a Federal employee is not forced to perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s official position. Further, think about this: if a Postal or Federal employee is periodically offered a “new modified” position once a year, or once every couple of years, such an action by the Agency only reinforces the argument that the position being “offered” is not truly a permanent position. Sometimes, the Agency’s own actions can be used to your advantage when filing for disability retirement.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Esquire

Accommodation Under FERS & CSRS Disability Retirement

The issue of Accommodations is always an important one in FERS & CSRS disability retirement cases. Agencies on the one hand will often attempt to “put together” a set of duties for the employee to perform, and try and keep a productive employee with the Agency.

There is nothing wrong with this. Indeed, it may even be commendable for the Agency to try and “accommodate” a good employee in such manner. However, such an ad hoc set of duties is not legally an acceptable “accommodation”, and when it comes to filing for disability retirement, it does not preclude a person from being able to file for, and be eligible for, disability retirement. Court cases have upheld this view.

Thus, in Bracey v. Office of Personnel Management, 236 F.3d 1356, 1358 (Fed. Cir. 2001), the Federal Circuit Court delineated and outlined the applicable provisions governing disability retirement, stating that “the pertinent OPM regulation elaborates on the statutory definition by providing that an employee is eligible for disability retirement only if (1) the disabling medical condition is expected to continue for at least one year; (2) the condition results in a deficiency in performance, conduct, or attendance, or is incompatible with useful and efficient service or retention in the employee’s position; and (3) the agency is unable to accommodate the disabling condition in the employee’s position or in an existing vacant position.”

Note this last provision, because that is the “all-important language” with respect to the issue of accommodations. What the Court in Bracey stated, is that the term “accommodation” is a legal, precise term, and it means that in order to be a true accommodation, the Agency must do one of two things: Either, provide for working conditions such that an employee can continue to perform all of the essential elements of the position that the employee is occupying, or place that employee into an existing vacant position — at the same pay or grade. This latter point is also important: in Bracey, the Court clearly stated that an employee must be reassigned to a “vacant” position, and not one which was merely “made up”, and the reasoning of the court is clear: the Court Stated:

“We Agree with Mr. Bracey that OPM’s argument fails, because the term “vacant position” in section 8337 refers to an officially established position that is graded and classified, not to an informal assignment of work that an agency gives to an employee who cannot perform the duties of his official position. A ‘position’ in the federal employment system is required to be classified and graded in accordance with the duties, responsibilities, and qualification requirements associated with it.” Id. at p. 1359

Further, the Court went on to state that the term “vacant position” means “something that is definite and already in existence rather than an unclassified set of duties devised to meet the needs of a particular employee who cannot perform the duties of his official position.” Id. at 1360.

Remember: if you have a medical condition such that you can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of your job, your Agency can certainly give you a set of duties to keep you in that position, and if you can do those duties, and like the type of work provided, that is great. However, if and when a new supervisor comes he, that supervisor can negate such an ad hoc set of duties, and declare that all employees must henceforth be able to do all of the duties of the official position description. That is why an ad hoc set of duties does not constitute an “accommodation” under the law — because what is assigned “ad hoc” can also be taken away “ad hoc”.

Unless a Federal Employee is legally accommodated, he or she has the option of filing for disability retirement. Don’t be fooled by an Agency who says, “Don’t worry; we’ll reduce your workload and let you work a light-duty position.” That “light-duty” position will not necessarily be permanent, especially when the next Supervisor comes along.

Sincerely,

Robert R. McGill, Attorney